A group of leading technology companies on Wednesday dashed Microsoft?s hopes of a swift end to its regulatory woes in Europe with a new antitrust complaint against the US software company.

The complaint ? filed by IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Nokia and other technology groups known as the European Committee for Interoperable Systems ? is likely to spark a fresh probe by the European Union?s competition regulator and prolong a regulatory battle between Microsoft and Brussels that has lasted more than six years.

Ecis said it was concerned about ?a range of Microsoft business practices that threaten to deny enterprises and individual consumers real choice among competing software products?.

It added: ?Strong antitrust law enforcement appears to be the only way to stop the sustained anti-competitive behaviour of Microsoft.?

The complaint is the first since the European Commission?s ruling against the software group in March 2004, and is certain to come as a severe blow to Microsoft. It threatens to put under the regulatory spotlight an entire new set of Microsoft products and applications, targeting in particular the group?s new Vista operating system, which is due to be launched later this year.

The Commission said it had received the complaint and would ?study it carefully?. Should Brussels find Ecis?s allegations merited, it will have to open a new antitrust investigation against Microsoft. Ecis? main concern is that Microsoft is seeking to create an environment where a growing number of web-based applications functions only with computers and servers driven by Windows.

This would mean that internet-based applications ? from search sites to online retailers ? could no longer work on computers using operating systems such as Apple?s OS or Linux.

Ecis also alleges that Microsoft is abusing its dominant position in the market for products and applications such as Windows Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Microsoft said it would act ?quickly and comprehensively? should the Commission ask it to respond to the new complaint, although it dismissed Ecis as ?a front for IBM and a few other competitors who constantly seek to use the regulatory process to their business advantage?.

It added: ?We have come to expect that as we introduce new products that benefit consumers?.?.?.?a few competitors will complain.?

Set up in 1988, Ecis also includes RealNetworks, Red Hat, Opera, Linspire and Corel.

Microsoft is currently trying to fend off the threat of fresh financial penalties from the Commission in connection with the 2004 decision. Brussels believes the US group has not complied with key elements of its ruling, and has warned that it will impose fines of up to ?2m a day unless Microsoft addresses its concerns quickly.

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